Once again Alaska was the nation’s premiere cruise destination, attracting a record 1.64 million cruise visitors in 2023 who spent $2.44 billion in the state, according to figures from CLIA Alaska and the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
More than 40 ships visited Alaska during a season that stretched from April 17 to October 27 and included more than 20 ports, ranging from Metlakatla to Attu to Utqiagvik. On some days Juneau greeted as many as 21,000 visitors.
“Intense” is how some Alaskans characterized the season that saw the ships’ average capacity exceed 100%. “At times, it was shoulder to shoulder in the shop,” said one shop owner in Juneau. “Sometimes I just ran out of stuff.”
Collaboration and innovation became critical to the season’s success. Communities throughout Southeast sat down with the industry to discuss issues and fixes. Some are developing new berthing plans that are responsive to 2023 season concerns — plans that range from limits on ship numbers to staggered passenger arrivals. Ketchikan hired its first Tourism Manager and Sitka established a broad-based Tourism Task Force.
Itinerary changes forced some communities to scramble, especially in Southeast where several large ships were diverted to Sitka due to issues at one of Skagway’s docks and to Icy Strait Point, which absorbed the schedule of a ship diverted from Prince William Sound.
Staffing remained an issue for some but generally it was a very good season as the industry fully recovered to pre-pandemic numbers and then some.